by Leeann Simons, Mikveh Guide

LeeannTen years ago, I became a member of Mayyim Hayyim. At my friend’s invitation, I agreed to go on a tour of this new place. As soon as I walked in the door, I decided: this is it–I am coming here to celebrate my 50th birthday.

Since then, I have immersed for many different occasions–birthdays, holidays, marking the end of the thirty day mourning period. But my favorite reason? Because I can.

You see, I’m not only a member of our mikveh, but I also have the privilege of being a Mikveh Guide. After walking through those doors ten years ago, I realized I wanted to be a part of this community. Wherever I have lived–State College, PA, Harrisburg, PA and Silver Spring, MD–I have always volunteered for organizations involving women. And, after walking through that door ten years ago, I found a place I wanted to join.

As part of our Mikveh Guide training, we learn about the different reasons women immerse. One reason, that is significant to me, is to mark a difference, a change. One of the changes someone might traditionally go through is from tamei to tahor, meaning from “ritually unready” to “ritually ready.” For me, it is about intention–about marking a change between then…and now.

Because of the wonderfulness of our mikveh, we have ceremonies that allow us to decide what the “then and now” can mean. Our guests may also decide for themselves why they want to immerse: we provide them with the privacy and the safety to make those decisions. Mayyim Hayyim is for everyone in the Jewish community, and we have an extraordinary ritual committee who put into words the ceremonies that can then be said in the mikveh.

While I love being a Guide, I also love my time as a guest. I tell my friends, “the prep rooms are as big as my living room.” Preparation is as important to me as immersing–it’s making time to take care of myself. I always take my journal with me. It’s a snapshot of what is happening in my life at that particular moment. Each time I sit down to write, I look at where I was the previous visit. Sometimes I write for a while, making time to peel away the layers so I can truly immerse with nothing separating me from the water. Other times, it’s just a quick note. Either way, it works.

Even though I no longer belong to a congregation, I like to say I belong to the mikveh. Whether I am guiding or immersing, whether it’s quiet or busy, I am going into a space where I belong.

There is a quote, from The National Center for Learning and Leadership, CLAL, in the bridal and groom immersion ceremonies I read whenever I immerse:

Immersion in water softens our form, making us malleable
Dissolving some of the rigidity of who we are.
This allows us to decide who we wish to be when we come out of the water.
The water changes us neither by washing away something nor by letting something soak into us
But simply softening us so that we can choose
To remold ourselves into a different image.

These special moments are about me, and I am lucky to have them. So when someone asks me why I immerse, the reason is–thanks to Mayyim Hayyim–because I can.

Leeann Simons is a registered dietitian and adjunct professor at two local business colleges. She has been a guide (and member) of Mayyim Hayyim for over 11 years. She is married and has two grown sons who live out of state.